Here we have a French-American experimental movie set in space that combines elements of different genres: sci-fi, horror, drama and mystery come together in High Life, starring Robert Pattinson, Mia Goth and Juliette Binoche.
High Life is the kind of film the least you know about, the better. You can watch the trailer, though, because it doesn’t give anything away… for once!
In short, the movie opens with Monte (Pattinson) living in a spaceship with his a-few-month-old daughter: as we see how they deal with isolation and the emptiness of space, we also learn what brought Pattinson on the spaceship and what happened to the other crew members.
In case you want to watch High Life – the limited theatrical release can be found on their IMDb page – here’s what you should expect: a film with a complex narrative structure that will make it hard for you to put the pieces together; a film that will raise numerous questions and we’ll leave you with only a couple of definitive answers; a film that doesn’t give you any kind of closure.
If those aspects are something that you’ll be interested in, or if you’d like to challenge yourself and try to figure out an unsolvable mystery, then you should watch High Life. Otherwise, don’t.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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My review is also available on IMDb – High Life (2019)
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Director Claire Denis – who I’m not very familiar with – took inspiration from films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gattaca and Ikarie XB-1 (a 1963 Czech masterpiece I would strongly recommend for sci-fi fanatics) for its setting, but the movie managed to give them a unique look and feel that, combined with a deliberately unconventional story, makes for an odd viewing experience.
The purposeful contrast between the interiors of the spaceship – orderly and claustrophobic at the same time – and the black hopelessness of space creates a sense of terror not many sci-fi films have been able to achieve.
The overall film is immersed into an uncomfortable atmosphere that’s provided by the total absence of natural lights, the persistent and subtle eerie score, the story itself and the apparent lack of purpose for the characters.
Speaking of characters, only a few of them are fully developed: this could be an issue for a film that wants the audience to care for them, but here they only exist in Monte’s memories (since most of what we witness on screen happened before Monte and his daughter wound up alone on the spaceship). Monte’s character is, in fact, the only one with depth and it’s perfectly portrayed by Robert Pattinson. Forget about that Twilight saga, because every single performance he gave after those dreadful movies was nothing short than jaw-dropping. He’s an actor who welcomes daring roles and fully embraces the characters he needs to play, always providing A-class acting. He’s absolutely fantastic in High Life, where he’s able not just to display a vast range of emotions, but also to convey how much he changed psychologically depending on what moment of the story he’s in.
High Life manages to be constantly uncomfortable by just implying certain things. Yet, there are a few moments of horror connected to very gory sequences or sexually explicit content: High Life is obsessed with every kind of body fluid and it tackles this subject matter in the most detached yet uneasy way possible.
Despite the meticulous attention this film was crafted with, High Life is quite imperfect. One of the main issues with the movie consists of its pacing: High Life is the type of film that would be considered boring by the average viewer. Although I wouldn’t agree on that, it’s clear that the movie suffers from pacing issues that come from long takes where nothing happens: it’s as though the establishment shots were drawn out to be more artistic but wound up feeling pointless.
High Life forces you to pay attention to every little detail in order to get what’s going on and the order of the events, and yet there’s a long exposition sequence (featuring two characters we don’t know and are not invested in) that basically gives away the entire context of the movie and leaves no room for interpretation.
Also, there’s one scene at the beginning that feels very distasteful and edgy for the sake of it: if you’ve been on this website before you’d know I don’t think any content should be censored, even the most depraved ones. However, depicting a baby in a certain way (and for no reason) is just distasteful and, in my opinion, wrong.
Aside from these flaws, High Life is a great film that it’s not easy to recommend. In fact, I personally didn’t like it. It’s frustrating when movies like this one, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and The Beast (1975), to name a few, don’t click with you: these three pictures I just mentioned are objectively great films, but for some reasons I couldn’t get into them.
Still, if you’re up for an experimental and unique blend of sci-fi, horror, drama and plain weirdness, you should give High Life a chance. Just bear in mind you’ll probably be left with no answers to your questions.
High Life 7/10
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